(Enja ENJ 9583, CD Review by Robert Edgar)
Toufic Farroukh is a Lebanese Jazz saxophonist and composer who fled Lebanon in the wake of the 1970's civil war, and has since then been based in France. He had discovered the music of Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon early on, and their sounds were what spurred him on to become a musician. According to Farroukh, whilst exiled in Paris, he often found it difficult to get a gig, because audiences there seemed to warm more to virtuosic displays than to his more thoughtful musical language.
Get a gig he did however, and a good thing too, because many years later it lead to a series of albums. This, his fifth, is a stunning achievement. Farroukh says that "The title of the album; you have to understand as showing off. This record tells the story of Beirut...This town where you can find everything; chaos, religion war, business." He also describes it as a "faire son cinéma" which translates roughly as: making a scene.
Farroukh has assembled a tight-knit group of real talent. Leandro Aconcha, a regular collaborator, who is also credited as co-arranger on several tracks, is a hugely versatile pianist. When he improvises, Aconcha's mode of expression is clear and concise and he seems to understand and empathise with Farroukh’s Lebanese roots seamlessly. He is a very capable soloist (especially on the track Storyboard, a solo piano piece which sounds like it could be a Lebanese piano sonata) but what he really excels at is responding to and embellishing the music going on around him.
The instrumentation is unusual. Written for a brass trio of trumpets, trombone and sousaphone/tuba supporting the sax, piano and drums. There is no bass guitar or double bass, that role is filled masterfully by tubist Didier Havet who is just at as at home here as he is playing in the brass trio or as a soloist.
Sylvain Gontard is a powerful player taking an almost bebop-esque solo in A Wonderful Afternoon with Zéna-Laure before slipping seamlessly back into the brass trio made up of Daniel Zimmermann on trombone, Havet on Sousaphone/tuba, and sometimes joined by Farroukh.
Farroukh is a fine saxophonist and also an accomplished builder of convincing narratives as a composer - he has composed at least eight film or documentary scores.
His compositions also give every performer a chance to showcase their talents, even Havet, an incredible musician who can jump from chorus playing to bass-guitar like riffing with ease, gets a small 1:30 minute piece (What Are You Doing in the Dark?) all to himself. It is refreshing to hear the tuba and sousaphone as solo instruments.
His work is an interesting fusion of jazz influences with the music of his native Lebanon.
The most substantial achievement of this album is the last three tracks: The Red Boy- part 1, What are you doing in the dark? and The Red Boy- Part 2. These form an interconnected suite. All musicians are on top form here with Luc Isenmann on drums driving it along energetically. Cinéma Beyrouth presents at the same time a convincing blend and a fascinating juxtaposition of the jazz influences and Lebanese background, best listened to in one go and it rewards repeated listening.